So when do the math lessons take place? The students watch those at home on their iPads. The lessons consist of interactive videos that Wilbur created using the Explain Everything iPad app—41 lessons for sixth grade and 57 lessons for seventh grade.
Welcome to the flipped classroom, a world where students use homework time to get an introduction to a lesson and use classroom time to deepen their understanding of the topic and to work collaboratively on a wide range of projects that put mathematical concepts into practical use.
The interactive nature of the iPad and the Apple Pencil allows Wilbur to create lessons by writing and speaking as though she were working one-on-one with a student. Students then move through the lessons at home at a speed that is comfortable them. If they come across something that confuses them, they can use Schoology, another app on the iPad, to ask their classmates for help, or they can email Wilbur for assistance.
The next day, in class, Wilbur reviews the previous night’s topic to make sure everyone understands how each problem is solved before moving onto the application stage.
“The flipped classroom lets the passive part of the learning process—the lecturing— happen at home, and it allows students to move through that process at their own pace. The active part of learning happens in the classroom with the support of peers and the teacher.”--Tori Wilbur
Hands-on projects that put mathematical concepts into use are a big part of the classroom experience.
For example, during their study of statistics, Wilbur’s 7th graders must give a presentation that uses statistics to inform others about a specific topic, such as how an analysis of the ages of football players can be used to draw certain conclusions about player longevity and position demographics. They’ll make posters and charts for their presentation and prepare a speech. In an interesting twist, they’ll create two versions of the presentation, one that makes straightforward use of statistics, and one that manipulates the statistics in a way that misleads their audience into drawing erroneous conclusions.
“That project came out of an interdisciplinary partnership with the Media Literature class,” Wilbur says. “It helps the students understand how statistics can be used both to enlighten and confuse.”
The sixth grade “Natick Open Door Project” requires the students to plan, prepare, and serve a meal to 60 members of a nearby elderly community. Using their math skills, the students have to choose and modify a recipe, shop for the groceries while comparing unit prices and working within a budget, and cook the meal. “The project involves lots of practical uses of math, as kids have to calculate food amounts and grocery costs,” Wilbur says. “Plus, it gets them out into the world, teaches them a bit about cooking, and introduces them to the rewarding practice of community service.”
When asked to identify the benefits of a flipped classroom, Wilbur can easily rattle off a long list. But of all the benefits, perhaps the one she likes best is that it makes math fun.
“I think that’s the most important thing at this age: that kids have fun in math and that they experience success. Early middle school is when they are going to decide if they love math or hate it. It feels like a really important job to me to help them love math.”
Photos by John Hurley; Videos by Stephen Porter